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Plant J. 2019 Mar 19. doi: 10.1111/tpj.14317. [Epub ahead of print]

Large-scale metabolite quantitative trait locus analysis provides new insights for high-quality maize improvement.

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National Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement, Huazhong Agricultural University, Shizishan Lu 1, 430070, Hongshan, Wuhan, China.
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Am Mühlenberg 1, 14476, Potsdam-Golm, Germany.
Key Laboratory of Horticultural Plant Biology, Ministry of Education, Huazhong Agricultural University, Shizishan Lu 1, 430070, Hongshan, Wuhan, China.
Centre of Plant System Biology and Biotechnology, 4000, Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
Beijing Key Laboratory of Crop Genetic Improvement, National Maize Improvement Center of China, China Agricultural University, West Yuanmingyuan Lu 2, 100193, Haidian, Beijing, China.
Department of Life Sciences, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba, Israel.


It is generally recognized that many favorable genes which were lost during domestication, including those related to both nutritional value and stress resistance, remain hidden in wild relatives. To uncover such genes in teosinte, an ancestor of maize, we conducted metabolite profiling in a BC2 F7 population generated from a cross between the maize wild relative (Zea mays ssp. mexicana) and maize inbred line Mo17. In total, 65 primary metabolites were quantified in four tissues (seedling-stage leaf, grouting-stage leaf, young kernel and mature kernel) with clear tissue-specific patterns emerging. Three hundred and fifty quantitative trait loci (QTLs) for these metabolites were obtained, which were distributed unevenly across the genome and included two QTL hotspots. Metabolite concentrations frequently increased in the presence of alleles from the teosinte genome while the opposite was observed for grain yield and shape trait QTLs. Combination of the multi-tissue transcriptome and metabolome data provided considerable insight into the metabolic variations between maize and its wild relatives. This study thus identifies favorable genes hidden in the wild relative which should allow us to balance high yield and quality in future modern crop breeding programs.


genetic basis; maize; primary metabolism; quantitative trait locus; teosinte


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